Jul 1, 2008
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Czar's descendants re-launch Roaring 20s fashion house

Jul 1, 2008

PARIS, July 1, 2008 (AFP) - Descendants of Russia's fallen czars and the cream of global fashion feted the re-launch Monday of a 1920s label founded by high-society Bolshevik exiles, the Romanovs and Yusupovs, for the international elite of the time.

Models congratulate each other on the catwalk in April 2008
Photo : Michal Cizek/AFP

Champagne flowed and waiters kept trays of tidbits circulating at a crowded open-air evening launch appropriately held amid the towering columns of the art deco 1930s Palais de Tokyo in a posh part of town.

"This is incredible, a dream," said star-of-the-evening Countess Xenia Sheremeteva-Yusupov, also known as just Mrs Ilia Sphiris, grand-daughter of the illustrious couple who in 1924 founded Irfe, a fashion house with a brief but equally illustrious history.

"I know how much my grandparents loved that house," she added.

Oxford-educated prince Felix Yusupov, descendant of a famed Russian dynasty dating its roots back to the Islamic Prophet Ali, inherited one of the biggest fortunes of Russia, cavorted across Europe, hob-nobbed with the rich and arty, and wound up banished from court after taking part in Rasputin's assassination.

In 1914, he married Princess Irini Romanov, related to Nicholas II and said to have been one of the most dazzling beauties of the time. The couple fled Russia in 1919 to live in relative comfort and style in emigre circles in Italy, then France.

Lovers of fine arts and fine things, the white Russian pair in 1924 founded the house of Irfe in Paris, after the first two letters in each of their names, launching their first collection at the Ritz and then showing inside their own theatre, built in their Parisian home.

Noted by Vogue and popular with American millionairesses, Irfe offered hand-embroidered, hand-painted elegance, but crashed in 1931 due to the dire straits of its clientele after the Great Depression.

Monday's 2008 revival harked back to the glory days.

A batch of 24 skinny models, with hair slicked back and thick pencilled eyebrows, posed for cameras in long slinky satin numbers on high steps inside the Paris palace, like a mini-version of a Ziegfeld Follies.

Worn with very, very high heels, the Irfe renaissance collection featured evening tuxedos, flowing gowns, swathes of fur and a couple of chic day-coats perfect for a ride on the Orient Express.

"My goal," said designer Olga Sorokina, a 23-year-old former model from Belarus, "is the revival of Russian tradition. This house was born when Russian people played an important role in fashion."

Irfe, she said, planned to open a store in Moscow next winter not far from top luxury house Louis Vuitton, then open boutiques in Milan and Paris.

"This brand is so much part of Russian history that there was no problem in finding investors," said Sorokina, a tall thin blonde dressed in white satin with a purple bow who heads the house as well as being chief designer.

Countess Sheremeteva-Yusupov, who has given her blessing to the revived Irfe, said the idea of re-launching a Russia house had come from Sorokina and one of her associates.by Claire Rosemberg

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